Things to Come: Realism

This piece is first in a series of opinionated forecasts about art, culture, fashion and business called Things to Come. Look for these posts in the oracles category, but don’t look for definitive answers.

There is too much history to absorb. We only receive vague transmissions of our own culture, like watching a snowy TV channel. Which is why I think the irony of our time will soon fizzle and fade, the informed crapiness and estoeric bizarreness. The smirking. The carving out of a virtual niche of imagined uniqueness in a world where one feels overwhelmingly powerless as an individual. I think that is where this deconstructionist irony came from. As a culture, we’ve moved from the worship of religious personalities to a pantheon of pop icons, the only figures of the mid- to late 20th century who have made a historical impact (seemingly) alone. Now it seems we have nothing to hang on to. Perhaps that is what is meant by the “fetishization” of the “ego.” Does anyone know what those words really mean? The quotation marks aren’t mine. Putting words in quotation marks is what educated people do when they pretend not to understand or have an opinion or feel something because they think the topic beneath them, are too detatched to believe, or it’s too broad to get any credit for an explanation.*

And so I respond to the quotation marks with a question mark. (I’ve just had a strong sense of déjà vu in writing that sentence.) Why is it nowdays that are we afraid to acknowledge that spirituality in art exists? Whether the images are symbols attempting to express something that is indefiniable in human terms, or whether it is a portrayal of a system of beliefs, it is these things, is it not? Why do we turn a blind eye to the subject? Example: I went to the Luca Cambiaso exhibit at the Blanton about a year ago. It was edifying to learn about the organization of medieval society and its relationship to commissioning art, Cambiaso’s growth as an apprentice in his father’s painting studio and in a workshop of his own, his teaching methods and drawing techniques, etc. But it was odd to see images of religious figures with little to no explanation about who they were or what they might’ve meant to viewers at that time (I’m reminded of the image of the native/modern American staring with blank eyes at the murals in the mission churches of Spanish California in Richard Rodriguez’s essay “The Missions” from his stunning Days of Obligation).

Perhaps this societal structure is an angle we can peer through when dissecting and hopefully solving the problems of our art world today. I truly think that, although I’m not at all comfortable with saying this, when it comes to art, realistic portrayals of objects and experiences are the only elements that connect with and stay in people’s minds over time. Let’s be honest with ourselves. The American public is going to become educated about art anytime soon. Even artists are conservatives: we’re always looking back on some heyday like the Renaissance, or the early 20th century, or some past scene when, unless it was in recent memory, we have no inkling of what its existence was really like. And look at how dismal the world is without real visual art being an environmental, even routine part of life on our walls and in our architecture. I think it is only with realism that artists slowly begin to cut through the cultural static in the collective mind of the society we live in.

I know what direction I’m going to take artistically, I’m just not ready for it yet.

*Disclaimer: I’m not an anti-intellectualist. I’m just anti-lying.

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